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India blocks foreign funding of Modi critic's trust

[NEW DELHI] The Indian government has cancelled the foreign funding licence of a non-profit trust run by a high-profile activist known for her vocal criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying it misused overseas funds.

The Home Ministry alleged in an order Thursday that the Sabrang Trust, run by activist Teesta Setalvad, made multiple violations of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

It came as a court Friday sentenced 24 Hindus involved in a 2002 massacre during religious riots in western Gujarat state, when Mr Modi was chief minister - a key focus of Ms Setalvad's campaigns.

Foreign funds were used inappropriately by Sabrang trustees to order food takeaways, as well as personal items including nail clippers, wet wipes and sanitary napkins, according to the order, a copy of which was shared with AFP.

"This amounts to using the foreign contribution for the purpose not authorised as per provisions of FCRA," home ministry undersecretary Deepak Kumar said in the order.

The trust also illegally mixed foreign and domestic funds, the Thursday order said.

Ms Setalvad, 54, has repeatedly accused the government of targeting her because of her fierce criticism of Mr Modi following the deadly Gujarat riots.

"Never be scared of the actions of a bully who only knows the use of brute force. Right shall triumph," Ms Setalvad posted on Twitter Thursday.

The Trust's secretary said in a statement it would "actively explore all legal options to challenge the Home Ministry's order".

Mr Modi's nationalist government has been criticised for an apparent clampdown on foreign-backed non-governmental organisations including Greenpeace and the Ford Foundation.

On Thursday, three UN human rights experts called on New Delhi to repeal the FCRA, saying it was increasingly being used to obstruct civil society access to foreign funding.

"We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the government," UN Special Rapporteurs Michel Forst, David Kaye and Maina Kiai said in the statement.

Through Sabrang and another organisation, Ms Setalvad is known for her campaigning work for victims of the Gujarat riots that left more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.

Mr Modi has long denied any wrongdoing over the riots.

Separately, Ms Setalvad is also accused by Gujarat police of embezzling donations meant for riot victims and is being investigated by the country's top police agency.

The Indian government last year suspended Greenpeace India's foreign funding licence after accusing the watchdog of hurting the country's economic interests.

It has also cracked down on the Ford Foundation, saying the US charity can no longer give money to local organisations without government permission.

AFP